§ *MR. SPEAKER
I have to inform the House that I have received the following letter from the hon. Member for South Fermanagh (Mr. Jordan). It reached me yesterday afternoon.
§ To the
§ 6th March, 1901.
§ Right Honourable William Gully,
§ Speaker of the House of Commons.
§ I, the undersigned Member of the House of Commons, desire to bring the following facts under your notice.
§ On this day I was reported by the Chairman of Committees to you as having refused to leave the House when a division was called, and having defied his ruling. There is no foundation for that statement, as I did leave the House when the division was called, and only returned to it, in common with the other Members in the lobbies, when the Chairman announced his intention of reporting those Members who did not leave the House.
§ I am now prevented from entering the House, and I desire to claim my right to enter the House, and discharge my duty to my constituents.
§ (Signed) JEREMIAH JORDAN.
§ Upon receipt of that letter I informed the hon. Member for East Mayo that I thought, as it raised a strong prima facie case of error in the report, the hon. Member was entitled to have the advantages of priority—such as are given to questions of privilege—in order that an alleged mistake directly affecting the Parliamentary position of an hon. Member may be corrected, and therefore I informed him that J would call him on early with his motion. At the same time, 832 I desire to state that this decision arises out of the special circumstances of the case, and must not be taken as a precedent in any way for the proposition that where the House has suspended a Member, and in order to rescind that order and to restore him again to the House, he is entitled to any privilege. He is not entitled, as such, to any privilege. The other point to which I would call attention is that, in granting precedence to this motion as a matter arising out of the special circumstances of the case, discussion upon it must be confined strictly to the question whether the hon. Member for South Fermanagh is the victim of error, and whether in point of fact he did disobey the ruling of the Chair.
§ Mr. DILLON
The motion I have to make is as follows: "That the Order made on Tuesday, 5th March, suspending twelve Members from the service of the House, be rescinded in so far as it applies to Mr. Jordan." I must not be taken as accepting the view that the other Members mentioned in the Order—[Cries of "Order" from the Ministerial benches.] I would be out of order in entering into that matter on this motion, and I allude to it only for the purpose of safeguarding myself from an inference which might very easily be drawn from the form of the motion I now submit to the House. I pass from that subject, merely placing on record my belief, gathered from the evidence of colleagues, that besides Mr. Jordan there were several others mentioned in the Order who did not defy the authority of the Chair, but some of whom at a later period did refuse to obey the Chair through indignation at the treatment they had received.
In recommending this motion to the House, it will plainly be necessary for me very briefly to recall to the memory of the House what occurred on this Wednesday morning. I was not present myself, and I have collected the facts. [Cries of "Order."] Hon. Members might give me fair play. We may have an angry debate by and by, but this is a matter on which I have always known the House of Commons to give fair play. This is a question of an injustice, as I claim, inflicted upon a Member of this House, who has just as good a right, as far as his action is concerned, to sit here and take 833 part in the debates as any other Member. I wish to explain the absolute necessity under which I lie of giving a brief resume of the facts of Wednesday morning, in order to establish my case. I shall do nothing more than that. Why do I. lie under that necessity? It is because there is on the official record of the House a distinct statement on the authority of the Chairman of the House, that he had observed Mr. Jordan to be one of the Members who had refused to obey his ruling. I am not entitled to do what some hon. Members apparently, from the interruption I heard a moment ago, thought I was entitled to do—namely, appeal to Mr. Jordan's letter and claim the privilege that the lion. Member for South Fermanagh should be taken at his word. I am not in a position to base my case upon that moral claim, because there is a conflict of testimony between the statements in that letter and the official record of the House, the declaration of the Chairman that he had himself observed Mr. Jordan as one of those who refused to obey his ruling. That places upon me the absolute necessity of endeavouring to establish my case in favour of Mr. Jordan. I have collected the facts from three sources—the official record, which I hold in my hand. The Times report, which is rather full, and which, although it has no official value, is, on quantum valeat, considerable testimony, and the evidence of my colleagues, and of some other Members whom I have consulted as to what happened. The official record is as follows—Several Members refused to leave the House to proceed to the division lobby. Whereupon the Chairman directed the doors to be unlocked in order to report the matter to the Speaker.Mr. Speaker resumed the chair.The Chairman reported, That several Members, the hon. Member for South-East Cork, North Kerry, South Tipperary, North Meath, North Leitrim, East Limerick, North-East Cork, West Cavan, East Tyrone, South Fermanagh, East Cork, and West Cork, bad refused to leave the House and proceed to the division lobby when directed to do so by him.Therefore the Chairman is responsible for stating that of his own knowledge. The official record proceeds—Mr. Speaker appealed to the hon. Members in the interests of the House not to persist in their refusal to obey the Chair.834 But note that this is a very important matter, because the record in this case, I will contend, is inaccurate.But the said hon. Members having repeated their determination not to leave the House for the division—"The said hon. Members having repeated their determination." Now, I am authorised on the part of Mr. Jordan to say that he did not refuse in the first instance, that he went into the lobby to vote like all the other Members, and, in the second place, he did not repeat his determination. It was an intention which he never entertained, and therefore in both these particulars I have to maintain that the official record is inaccurate. That will. I think, make it clear to hon. Members that my motion is very simple. I have consequently to impugn the authority of the Chairman on a matter of fact, and to impugn the correctness of the official record of the House in two particulars. I take, as my first evidence, The Times report, and I think hon. Members when they listen to it will see the enormous importance, even supposing the report is not minutely and verbally accurate, the enormous importance of the account of the transactions given in The Times. This is what The Times report says—The CHAIRMAN: Order, order! If the hon. Members decline to proceed to the division lobbies, I must report the circumstances to the Speaker.Mr. P. M'HUGH: Bring in your policemen [cheers], but we are not going to divide.The CHAIRMAN then despatched a message to the Speaker.Members now came back from the lobbies and re-occupied the benches, while Mr. Nicholson, one of the Clerks at the Table, proceeded to the Irish benches to take the names of the recalcitrants.That clearly shows—and I have abundant other evidence to the same effect—that the names of the so-called or supposed recalcitrant Members were actually being-taken down in. as J contend, an utterly irregular fashion by one of the Clerks of the Table, and that the Chairman had called the division off and Members on both sides had commenced to troop back from the lobbies.
Now, that is my first point, and my statement, which I am authorised and requested by Mr. Jordan to make, 835 is that when he heard the division called, he immediately obeyed the order of the Chairman, that he proceeded into the "No" lobby and remained in the "No" lobby until he heard the division was off, and that be then returned to the House along with a number of other Members on these benches. On his return to the House after he had obeyed the order, he was met by one of the clerks, who, with a pencil and paper in his baud, took down his name as one of the recalcitrant Members. I proceed with The Times report. The Chairman on the return of the Speaker, reported and spoke as follows—Mr. Speaker, I have to report to you, Sir: that during the course of the division I had put the question which I was ordered to put by the House as a result of the division upon the closure. During the course of that division a certain number of Members of the House declined to leave their seats [loud Nationalist cheers] and to proceed into the division lobbies. I requested them more than once to proceed, but I gathered from the observations which fell from these hon. Members or some of them that they declined to proceed. Thereupon I thought it was due to the House, in the position in which we found ourselves, that I should follow the precedent which had been set on a former I occasion and ask you, Sir, to return to the chair. It was impossible for me, Sir, to see all I the hon. Members who declined to leave their seats, but I may say that among those whom I was able to observe—note, confirming the official record—were the Members for South-East Cork, North Kerry, Smith Tipperary, North Meath, North Leitnm, East Limerick, North-East Cork, West Cavan, East Tyrone, South Fermanagh, East Cork, and West Cork.
I must point out to the hon. Member that, as be is quite aware, no attack must be made on the action of the Chairman of Committees except upon express notice.
§ "Mr. DILLON
All I was saying was that, as a matter of fact, the Member for South Fermanagh did not decline to leave the House. He went into the lobby as I have already stated, and it was on his return from the lobby, after obeying the Chair in the fullest sense, that his name was taken down and returned as one of the recalcitrants. That is the story which I have to tell to the House from the hon. Member himself, and in a most important particular it is confirmed 836 by The Times report, because, as hon. Members will recollect. The Times report declares that the Clerk at the Table was busy taking down the names of Members after Members on all sides of the House had returned to the House. What I contend is that in this instance a departure was made from the usual practice, and that, as a matter of fact, the names submitted to you. Sir, were, at all events to some extent, collected by one of the clerks at the Table, and that in the case of Mr. Jordan, and in some other cases which I am not bringing before the House for various reasons, a mistake was made owing to that fact. It may be said—and I have no doubt it will be said—why did not Mr. Jordan, when the Speaker, on returning to the chair, made an appeal to hon. Members to obey the order of the Chair, stand up and declare that his name was wrongfully reported? I must deal first of all with what actually occurred. According to the official record and the report of The Times, you, Sir, addressed a question to hon. Members collectively as to whether they persisted in their determination not to clear the House. There was then no division going on—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The names of hon. Members bad been called out by their constituencies, and I did not call on hon. Members collectively, but only on those whose constituencies had been named.
§ Mr. DILLON
I recollect that fact perfectly, and I was coming to it. I have made careful inquiry on this point, and I am assured that your question, I Sir, was answered by a shout from the Irish benches, and in the general I uproar and excitement it would have been perfectly impossible for anyone to say, as regards all those Members, whether all of them declared that they were determined to persist in. their refusal. That is a very important point, and I assert on behalf of Mr. Jordan, an absent Member, that he did not answer Mr. Speaker in that sense; that he had no intention of offending against order; and that he did not offend against order. The only precedent exactly on all fours which I have in my mind was that of 21st May, 1896, when the Chairman interrupted the proceedings on the Agricultural Land Eating Bill and sent for 837 you, Mr. Speaker. What occurred on that occasion?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is now proceeding to discuss the conduct of the Chairman on Tuesday night. He is not entitled to do so. The discussion must be entirely confined to the question of whether there was or was not an error in the report he made. The hon. Member cannot go into the precedents and say that the Chairman should have acted in such and such a way, as was done on previous occasions. That is to attack the conduct of the Chair.
§ Mr. DILLON
But, Sir, I am entitled, surely, to use any argument calculated to carry my point, which is of importance to the discussion. I do not desire to attack the. Chair, but surely my mouth will not be closed on the all-important question to the, fate of my motion—namely, as to why Mr. Jordan did not reply when you, Sir, made the appeal from the chair. I maintain that it was impossible for anybody in the circumstances to judge, when that collective appeal was made, whether Mr. Jordan was a party to that refusal.
§ MR. DILLON
Certainly, Sir. I was only alluding very briefly to the fact that on a previous occasion, when a similar suspension took place, you, Sir, asked each individual Member, myself included, this question—" Do I understand the, hon. Member also to decline to leave the House? Mr. Dillon: Yes, Sir, I do decline." Then you asked Dr. Tanner and each other Member, man by man, and each admitted his offence and his intention to persist in that offence in spite of your appeal. Then and then only you took action against those Members. I was not for a moment endeavouring or desiring to find fault with your procedure, but I mention that case for the purpose of explaining how it came to pass that an error may have arisen, and you may have been led to think that Mr. Jordan was defying the Chair. In this instance Mr. Jordan left the House, as he tells me, without waiting to be removed from it; and the only point of controversy is why he did 838 not rise up and there and then protest against being named. In this instance, according to my information, all those Members who did stand up were shouted down. I am told that even a right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench endeavoured to address the House, and it was impossible in the state of excitement which prevailed for any man—much less for one, of those incriminated— to get a fair hearing for his statement. In the temper and excitement which prevailed, it was not unnatural for an hon. Member, smarting under a sense of great injustice, and guilty of no breach of the rules, to think that the wisest and most dignified course to take was quietly to walk out of the House. That is my case. I do not wish to enter into anything which is not essential to it, and therefore I beg to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Order of the House made on Tuesday, the, 5th day of March, suspending twelve Members from the service of the House, be rescinded so far as it applies to Mr. Jordan."—(Mr. Dillon.)
"*The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Mr. J. W. LOWTHER,) Cumberland, Penrith
After the letter which you, Sir, have read from the hon. Member for South Fermanagh, I desire frankly and at once to say that I admit that I must have made a mistake. Therefore, as fat-as I am concerned, I have no objection whatever to the, acceptance of the motion. But I think, at the same time, that it is due to myself as well as to the House to explain as briefly as may be the circumstances in which that mistake arose. I am sure I shall receive the sympathy of a great number of Members of the House in the very difficult position in which I found myself. The difficulty was much increased by the fact that a great number of Gentlemen on Tuesday night challenged my decision, and refused to leave their places. In order to make certain I jotted down, as far as I could judge from my position at the Table, the names of those Gentlemen whom I saw remaining in the House and refusing to leave; hut, in order to make absolutely certain, I requested the Clerk at the Table to lie kind enough to obtain the names of the 839 Gentlemen who refused to leave. Whilst that proceeding was going; on it is perfectly obvious, after what has fallen from the hon. Member for East Mayo, and his statement of the circumstances—it is perfectly obvious that certain hon. Members returned to the I louse. But I must point out that it was not until my list was completed that I sent to ask you, Sir, to return to the chair. The only objection which I have to make to the statement of the hon. Member for East Mayo in his relation of the circumstances is the statement that I sent for the Speaker before my list was completed. That is not so: I completed my list, verifying it from the list which I had received from the Clerk at the Table: and it was not until that list was completed, and I saw those Gentlemen in the House, that I formally sent for you. Mr. Speaker. I have no doubt that the mistake arose from the fact that the hon. Member for South Fermanagh was under the impression that the Speaker had been sent for and thereupon returned to his place; and so his name came to appear on the list. I take upon myself full responsibility for the mistake which occurred. I admit that it was a
§ mistake, and I am extremely sorry that it occurred. I apologise to the House and to the hon. Member for South Fermanagh for any inconvenience which he may have suffered.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
After the statement of the Chairman of Committees, and after what has fallen from the hon. Member for East Mayo, I have no doubt that the House will, Without further discussion, agree to the motion of the hon. Member.
§ Question put and agreed to.